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IHMSA News Feature Article
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at http://www.ihmsa.org
 
Questing For The Perfect Cast Bullet Load For The Freedom Arms 357 - Part Two or go to Part One
  By Todd Spotti * Load Data & Range Test Results
 
     In Part I, we discussed the methods used by Rick Kelter of the Los Angeles silhouette club to produce a perfect cast bullet. Rick has shot a ton of 40s, 60s, and even 80ís with his bullets, so we know the steps he takes result in a very high quality product. Duplicate those efforts and anyone can have the same result.

     To quickly review: use good metal like wheel weights with 2% tin added, use a proven bullet design (in this case the RCBS 200 grain .358" rifle bullet), make sure the bullet is sized perfectly concentric with a Star straight thru sizer, make sure the gas check doesnít shave any metal off the bullet shank and that itís fixed perfectly flat on the base of the bullet. Heat treat your bullets so theyíre strong but not brittle, and use a quality lube, size bullets before heat treating so they donít become work softened during the process. If you didnít have a chance to read Part I and want to know the details on how to achieve these results, go to (Part One) for the whole story.

     Now itís time to pay attention to case selection and preparation. In explaining his use of IMI cases (available at Widenerís), Rick stated that several years ago, Ken Light did an evaluation of various brands of 357 cases and found that IMI was the most consistent. Therefore Rick decided to go with IMI as well. Being curious, I decided to examine the IMI cases that Rick provided for the evaluation and to do a similar examination on the Starline cases that I normally use.

     The usual method that most people use when evaluating revolver brass is to weigh them. This is supposed to be an indicator of how consistent the internal volume of the case may be. (Heavier cases will have thicker walls and therefore wonít be able to hold as much powder as cases with thinner walls, which will also weigh less.) Ideally then, weíd like cases that all had the same internal volume, since variations in volume/weight in a given group would translate into pressure variations, and that then would translate into velocity variations.

     Consequently, I weighed 25 randomly selected cases from each brand. I then calculated the mean weight and the standard deviation of weight for each. (Talk about tedious - ugh). The IMI brass had an mean weight of 73.95 grains and a standard deviation of .593 grains. I found this to be impressive - until I did the calculations for the the Starline brass - average weight 72.6 grains and a standard deviation of only .266 grains. Very impressive. The Starline brass was 1.35 grains less in weight, so should hold just a tiny bit more powder.

"Measuring case wall thickness is a useful
method to judge case quality."

     However, an even better way to evaluate brass quality is to measure the uniformity of the thickness of the case wall at the mouth. Ideally, weíd like brass that has exactly the same thickness all the way around. Unfortunately, normal production variances prevent that from happening. The result is that when the bullet is seated, itís not perfectly centered in the case mouth, but rather is pushed off to the side by the thicker wall toward the thin side of the case. The end result is that the bullet isnít perfectly aligned with the bore when the gun is fired even if everything else is absolutely lined up.

     To overcome this situation, itís fairly common for people interested in precision shooting to neck turn their bottle necked cases to uniform dimensions all the way around. However, pistol brass gets no respect from most of the manufacturers of reloading tools (Redding excepted) and often does not even get respect from the shooting community itself. The consequence of this is the fact that there are no neck turning tools available that can uniform revolver brass. This is probably the result of years and years of pistol brass being used in revolvers where the manufacturing tolerances were - shall we say - "generous". So it really didnít matter if the brass wasnít uniform, because the gun it was being shot in was as loose as a goose. However, things are changing, and when it comes to the Freedom Arms revolvers, itís a whole different world out there. The precision of the FA is equal in every way to a hand crafted benchrest rifle. Consequently, it can make a difference if bullets are seated off center because of poor case wall tolerances.

     I then measured the case walls of the same 25 cases from each brand and found that the case wall variance from one side to the other for IMI brass was only a maximum of a .001 of an inch. Additionally, 80% of the IMI cases had exactly the same variance in their wall dimensions. This means that the case walls were indeed, very consistent.

     For Starline, the maximum case wall variance was .002 of an inch. 62% of those cases had the same variances. Not as consistent as IMI, but still pretty good. Frankly, I wouldnít have any problem using either brand. As an aside, Sinclair International, who sells a lot of neck turning tools, says if case wall variation is .003 of an inch or less, neck turning is probably not needed.

     Now trimming. This is a very important operation for pistol brass. In many brands of brass , case length can vary significantly. The result is that when a bullet is seated in the case and crimped, the variable length of the cases will determine the amount, or "hardness" of the crimp being applied. Additionally, it will also determine where in the bulletís cannelure the crimp takes place (low, middle, high, or maybe even out of the cannelure). The amount of crimp and placement of the crimp, in turn, can affect the consistency of the powderís ignition, and cause velocity changes from shot to shot. Bottom line - we want all the cases to be the same length to avoid these variations.

     In this particular situation, we also have another reason for trimming our cases. If youíre familiar with the RCBS 200 grain bullet, you know that it has a long nose. If the bullet is seated so that case is crimped into the crimping groove, the overall length of the bullet will be too long and the nose will protrude outside of the mouth of the Freedom Armís cylinder. That in turn will prevent the cylinder from being rotated. Solution? We have to shorten the case length slightly. The standard length for a 357 case is 1.29". Rick had his cases shortened to l.278" which was just enough to keep the nose of the bullet inside the cylinder (barely). Rick likes to keep the bullet as far out in the chamber as possible to insure that the entire front driving band is inside the throat. The theory is that the bullet will be held in alignment as it starts to move and mean less opportunity for misalignment on the way from the cylinder to the barrel. This is a good procedure for most revolvers. However, the barrel/cylinder alignment on the Freedom Arms is very precise. However, youíll note that some of my loads below involved crimping over the front driving band with no apparent loss of accuracy.

"Handmade trimmer and prep
machine uniforms 100 primer pockets in 10 minutes."

     Besides trimming, Rick also uniforms his primer pockets and primer flash holes to achieve the most uniform ignition. To do so, Rick actually designed and built his own machine that handles all of these operations. Looking something like an oversized shoe box with an overhead light, the machine turns something like five different spindles - each with a different function. The machine uses a fairly powerful electric motor so thereís plenty of torque and speed available to get things done rapidly. In fact, Rick says he can prepare 100 cases in 10 minutes (primer pockets). Not having a magic machine, I use an RCBS power case trimmer instead. It does a good job, but itís definitely not as fast as Rickís machine.

"Some of the spindles used to prep brass."

     He also seats and crimps in two separate operations. He uses a normal seating die backed out slightly so thereís no crimp. During the seating operation, heíll start pushing the bullet into the case, then stops, backs off, and then rotates the case 180 degrees. Heíll then seat the bullet all the way in. If thereís any degree of misalignment between the die and the shell holder, rotating the case will help to minimize that. This is a method I also used for a long time until I started using a Redding Competition Pistol Bullet Seating Die. For exact seating of revolver bullets, this tool is a must.

     Speaking of Redding, Rick also uses their profile crimp die in a separate operation. This die is the only one that uses a combination of a taper crimp as is normally used for semi auto ammo which headspaces on the case mouth, and a standard roll crimp at the same time. There is no better crimp from any other die. A good firm crimp is mandatory for consistent results especially when using magnum ball powders.

"Use of Redding competition seating dies
and profile crimp dies can help to produce 10 shot, 50 yard groups like this one."

     Let me give you an example of how well the Redding profile crimp works. While recently testing some jacketed bullet loads, I found that two of them were too hot and so immediately stopped. One load had a standard roll crimp and the other had the profile crimp. Once I got home, I decided to tear down the cartridges with my RCBS inertia bullet puller. It just took 2 whacks with the puller to knock out the 180 grain bullets from the roll crimped cases. On the other hand, it took 1 to 2 DOZEN whacks to knock out the bullets from the profile crimped cases. If that doesnít convince you that the profile crimp is the stronger of the two types, I donít know what will. It certainly convinced me.

"Profile crimping is the strongest there is."

     One last point about crimping, most reloading manualís will tell you to chamfer the inside of the case mouth. The purpose of inside chamfering is to bevel the inside edge of the case mouth and prevent the heel of the bullet from getting scraped up during the seating procedure. If it does get scratched or scrapped, accuracy will suffer. However, thatís why we use the expander die to bell the mouth of the case. So thereís really no need to chamfer. Itís really a redundant operation for revolver brass. Besides, when you do chamfer, youíre removing metal and making the case wall very, very thin at the mouth. Actually, we want as much metal as possible at that location so we can get the best grip on the bullet. Bottom line - do as Rick does and save yourself some trouble and get better results by skipping the chamfering.

Redding Profile Crimp Die with RCBS 200 crimped in the cannalure

     Through a lot of experimentation, Rick decided on a load of 16.2 of H110 powder, ignited by a CCI 550 primer for his cast bullets. Indeed, this load produced very impressible results. However, since Rick provided me with a generous supply of bullets and his wonderfully prepared cases, I decided Iíd drive off the road a little and try some other loads as well.

"Chamfering case mouths is not recommended."

     For powders, I used mostly standard mag pistol types. They were WW296, H110, AA #9, and Hodgdonís LilGun. I also used one powder that is not found in the general marketplace but is sold primarily to ammo manufacturers. Itís called H108, and is a very fine grain, some what faster burning, mag pistol powder. Itís available from Powder Valley - a major powder and primer seller. As of this date, an 8 pound jug of H108 is currently on special for $50. Check their web site at (powdervalleyinc.com). Good loads could be developed with any of these powders.

     Thereís been some minor historical debate on whether rifle or regular mag pistol primers are best when developing loads for heavy cast bullets. In this particular evaluation I didnít find any particular advantage one way or another. I had good performing loads with both. Since the amounts of powder I used in this case were not particularly great, I tended to use mostly mag pistol primers, however Rick likes CCI 550ís for his pet load and indeed it did produce high quality results.

"All powders produced great groups with the special
Kelter/RCBS bullets."

     In the end, itís safe to say that carefully prepared cast bullets coupled with cases that are just as carefully massaged will produce exceptional results in the Freedom Arms Revolver. In fact, these cast bullets will produce even better results than most jacketed bullet loads. Best of all, these bullets can be produced for very little money. On the other hand, producing top quality cast bullets takes time, so in effect you could say that youíre trading time for money. While there are people who cast to save money, I think that most enjoy the challenge of producing the best bullets possible all by themselves. As Rick has told me several times, itís "a labor of love".

     Good luck and good shooting, Todd Top of Page
   
   
Load Data and Range Test Results Below  
 
Todd Normally tests loads at 100 yards. Due to windy conditions these tests were 10 shots each at 50 yards
with a 8" Freedom Arms 357 and Leupold scope and rings from sand bag rest

50 Yard Load Data

Crimp over Front Driving Band

POWDER

PRIMER

BRASS

VELOCITY

SD

GROUP

WW 296

15.8 gr.

CCI

SPM

IMI

1410 fps

13

.76"

 

WW 296

15.6 gr.

CCI

SPM

IMI

1396 fps

11

.99"

 

AA#9

15.0 gr.

CCI

SPM

IMI

1508 fps

10

1.08"

 

Crimp in Crimping Groove

POWDER PRIMER BRASS VELOCITY SD GROUP
 AA#9 14.1 gr. FED 205 IMI 1409 8 .92  
 AA#9 14.5 gr. CCI SPM IMI 1414 5 1.35  
 LilGun 14.0 gr. CCI SPM IMI 1325 18 1.10"  
 LilGun 14.5 gr. CCI SPM STAR 1361 18 .75"  
 LilGun 15.0 gr. FED SPM IMI 1363 14 .59"  
 H-108 14.0 gr. FED SPM STAR 1391 9 .65"  
 H-108 14.5 gr. CCI SPM STAR 1380 7 1.20"  
 H-110 16.2 gr. FED 205 IMI 1367 5 .77  
 H-110 15.0 gr. FED SPM IMI 1313 19 1.25"  
 
DISCLAIMER: The loads presented here are experimental and are not necessarily recommended. Use standard reloading manuals.
 
NOTE: SPM = Small Pistol Mag Primer STAR = Starline Brass IMI = Israeli Military Industries

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Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.